When I was ten months old, we moved to Alaska and I began to live at the edge of wilderness. First we lived in tiny Skagway, surrounded by towering mountains on three sides. In Palmer, the mountains filled our living room window, and in turn pulled our gaze back out to their shimmering snowy peaks. Moose wandered in our yard on occasion and we skated clumsily on a nearby frozen pond up the street. Wilderness tempered by small town culture was the backdrop for my childhood until I turned eight. It was home.
When we moved “stateside,” we settled in Washington in a timber town of 20,000. Rich conifer forests, though under (invisible to me) siege, were close at hand. We often drove to the coast. I was soothed by the rhythm of the waves, the foreverness of the shoreline, and the constancy of the sea, even in all her moods. Beach and forest wilderness were my playground and more…now I also felt their comfort.
As I moved into my teen years, we camped in state parks. Here there were other teens, and all the conveniences, from showers to firewood. The parks were crowded with eager campers like us. There were stars at night, crackling campfires, the sound of the surf in the distance, and faraway treetops that our campfire smoke curled and climbed to greet in this blend of domesticated wilderness. As I grew into young adulthood, my experience of wilderness continued to be present but was often diluted. My spiritual life was similar. I was searching lightly for God but was mostly preoccupied.
When I moved to Oregon years later with my husband, we became involved with Quakers and began to explore listening and centering and getting really quiet. I also became active with wilderness protection. Now in my hands were maps that took us off the main roads, winding back and deep and high, bumping along old narrow roads, soaking in broad vistas of vast stretches of conifers sprawling over contiguous mountainsides. Increasingly, I sought these paths less travelled, the still deep quiet of the woods, the places where cougar scat showed up on the path, the sound of the wind not accompanied by the drone of motor vehicles. In these years, as we raised our family, we also camped in state parks and were grateful for their benefits. I always appreciated them, but now I recognized the difference.
It strikes me that daily life is like a state park. It is where I spend much of my time, working, connecting with and loving others, and choosing from a buffet of options for spending my time. It is full of purpose and meaning…. and distractions. What nourishes me for daily living –matters of spirit, the place of deepest peace- can get buried in busy-ness.
The more I go off the paved road, off the map of a fully scheduled day, the more I go home to the wilderness of listening, to the quiet radiance of the inner cathedral where spirit waits for me, ready to guide my way. It is where I meet God and sit by the river in the very tall quiet forest. It is why I have loved wilderness all along.